Harriet Diamond - When Words Get in The Way of Your Writing

Harriet Diamond

Whether you are writing to confirm a meeting, enclose a contract, offer a proposal, or request information, precise, direct language is your ally.  Following are three examples of how words get in the way of your message.

Overused, overstated Expressions:  Many believe that phrases such as enclosed please find, attached herewith, at the present time, and under separate cover create an official tone.  They don’t.  They create a marsh of words for the reader to wade through to get to the point.  Following are a few overused, overblown phrases and suggested substitutes:

Enclosed please find        Enclosed is; I enclose
Attached herewith            Attached is; I attach
At the present time           Now
Under separate cover      Separately    

Can you see the pattern?

Due to the overuse of due to:  In reviewing class participants’ writing samples during the past 20 years, I noticed that the phrase “due to” was everyone’s staple.  Depending on its use in the sentence, a variety of replacements exist.  These include as a result of, resulting from, caused by, the effect of and because of.  No one phrase should dominate your writing. Variety maintains interest.

Edit with a surgeon’s skill: If a word or phrase does not contribute to or clarify your meaning, eliminate it.  Sometimes, you have to restructure your sentence to simplify.  Look at the examples below and the italicized rewrites:

The purpose of this agreement is to allow Best Corp. to acquire the adjacent property.
This agreement allows Best Corporation to acquire the adjacent property.

The process of downsizing is expected to result in our realization of improved margins.
Downsizing will result in improved margins.

Prepositions are valuable connecting words, often essential to structure and clarity.  They can, however, interrupt the flow of your sentence.  While prepositional phrases are useful, they can be unnecessary.  Eliminating them can tighten your writing:

the supervisor of the department        the department supervisor
the course in social networking        the social networking course

The company expanded its domestic market with the building of new factories.
The company expanded its domestic market by building new factories.

My manager requested a report on the accounting process.
My manager requested an accounting process report.

The meeting of the members of the Finance Committee will be held in the conference room on the second floor.
The Finance Committee will meet in the second floor conference room.

Writing is not everyone’s favorite activity.  You can turn it into a more interesting task by returning to what you’ve written with an eye toward cutting unnecessary words and phrases.  Once you’ve completed that task, you will feel rewarded by the result.

Grammar in Plain EnglishWriting the Easy WayE-Z EnglishExecutive Writing American StylePerfect Phrases for Writing Company Announcements

Harriet Diamond is the author of Grammar in Plain English, E-Z English, Executive Writing American Style, Writing the Easy Way, and Perfect Phrases for Writing Company Announcements.  Her website is harrietdiamond.net